Adani, with an asterisk

Back in December, Gautam Adani came to Queensland and gave a very positive view of the proposed Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin. Things went pretty quiet for a while after that, but it appeared that a final announcement on the project would be made in April. Now, Anna Palaszczuk and a number of lesser dignitaries have been to India and brought back the news that the project will shortly be approved by the Adani board, at least if Mr Adani has his way, which seems guaranteed.

That came as a surprise to those of us who have long argued that the project is hopelessly uneconomic, even on the optimistic view that the current uptick in the coal price will be sustained.

But it turns out that there’s an asterisk. The approval will be subject to finance. Anyone who’s ever sold a house knows that means nothing is guaranteed. In Adani’s case, the initial stages of the project will need $2.5 billion in bank finance, as well as a concessional loan of up to $1 billion from the Commonwealth’s Northern Australia slush fund.

You might think that at least the second of these is a safe bet. But Aurizon (the former Queensland Rail) has come up with a competing proposal, which doesn’t have the problems associated with Adani’s opaque (to put it mildly) financial structure.

The real problem though is with the banks. Of the big Australian banks, Westpac is the only one that hasn’t ruled itself out. But they will presumably want only a small share of the risk, as part of an international consortium and there are no obvious candidates. Moreover, given the combination of reputational and project risk associated with a massive coal mine at a time when coal is clearly on the way out, any sane lender would demand a hefty rate of interest and lots of security. It’s hard to see Adani coming up with either.

So, I’m guessing Adani is still playing for time. We’ll probably see a very big announcement with a very small asterisk. Crunch time won’t come until June, when they need to come up with some real money.

Hope springs eternal …

… for the nuclear power faithful. Over the last couple of months, it’s become apparent that the Westinghouse AP1000, by far the most promising hope for a modern Generation III+ design, is dead in the water. Toshiba, which bought Westinghouse a while ago, is writing off billions of dollars, and seems unlikely to stay in the nuclear business after the remaining projects (all overdue and overtime) are completed. The other developed country candidates, including EPR and Candu are in an even worse state.

But wait! It seems there is a project that is on time, and possibly even on budget. It’s being built in the United Emirates by Korean company KEPCO, and consists of four plants using KEPCO’s APR-1400 design. That’s been the basis for some new optimism.

A quick look at Wikipedia’s APR-1400 article suggests this optimism may be misplaced. Among the problems

(i) This is a Gen III design, dating back to the 1990s. It hasn’t yet been certified as safe in the US, and it may not be
(ii) While the UAE project appears to have gone well, projects in South Korea have been subject to delays and cost overruns
(iii) The UAE deal was signed in 2009. There hasn’t been another export deal since then.
(iv) Although there were plans to build more plants in South Korea, they appear to have been shelved. There hasn’t been a new APR-1400 plant started there since 2013.

Minor parties?

Continuing on the coalition theme, there’s been a rash of articles (this is representative) worrying about the rise of “minor parties” to secure 25 per cent of the vote. All of these articles are premised on the definitional assumption that the Greens (a well-established party with about 10 per cent of the vote, in a longstanding but fractious alliance with Labor) are a minor party, while the Nationals (a well-established party with about 5 per cent of the vote, in a longstanding but fractious alliance with the Liberals) are not. In most of these articles, the Nationals are just lumped in with the Liberals (even though they have broken with them in several states at different times) but in some they are accorded major party status.

These articles reflect the longstanding prejudices of the press gallery in favor of majority governments their horror of “hung Parliaments” and their continued belief in a “mandate” theory of government. , Speculating a bit, I guess it’s easier to work on the basis of insider information from ministers, and to a lesser extent, shadow ministers than in a context where authority is much more widely distributed.

In any case, while the idea of an upsurge in “minor party” support is dubious, the gallery is right to think that something has changed. I’m planning a proper analysis, based on my “three party system” model, before too long.

I can’t work with her: Turnbull

I read this headline and my immediate thought was that Putin, antivax and the disastrous WA election had finally galvanised our hapless PM into breaking with Pauline Hanson. Alas, it turns out the “her” in question was the newly elected ACTU Secretary Sally McManus, who had dared to espouse the doctrine that it is sometimes appropriate to break unjust laws. McManus joins the company of such monsters as Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Fortunately for Malcolm, all of these lawbreakers have one thing in common that ensures that, were they still alive, Pauline Hanson would be doing her best to keep them out of the country. He can rest easy knowing that he stands with all the “ordinary” (sound of dog whistle here) Australians represented by the One Nation faction of his coalition.